Romans 7:1–6 —The Law of the Husband Explained
How many of us have read the first few verses of Romans chapter seven and assumed that somehow Paul is telling us that we are dead to the entire Torah-law—that we are no longer bound to it, that we no longer have to keep it? Is this what he is really saying? If so, does this mean that it’s now all right to violate the Torah’s prohibitions to steal, lie, murder, commit sexual sins, covet, worship idols, dishonor our parents, take YHVH’s name in vain and worship idols? If not, then what is Paul really saying in this passage—one that is often used by perhaps well-intended but misguided people in an attempt to prove that the Torah-law that YHVH Elohim gave to Moses and the children of Israel has been “done away with”?
To understand what Paul is really saying in Romans 7:1–6, let’s take a trip back into the Torah to understand what he is saying with regard to a specific law that has to do with the marriage covenant which Paul refers to as “the law of her husband” (v. 2), and which law a wife is dead to (v. 4) if her husband dies, and then how this relates prophetically to Yeshua’s death on the cross and the saint. You are to discover a deep truth pertaining to the gospel message that has been hidden in plain sight all along!
In Deuteronomy 24:1–5 we read,
1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her [The Stone Edition Tanach: found in her a matter of immorality; found her offensive in some respect] then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before YHVH: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which YHVH your Elohim giveth thee for an inheritance. [Emphasized sections are to be discussed.]
The word uncleanness or immorality is the Hebrew word ervah (Strong’s H6172) which according to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament refers simply to “nakedness or the resulting shame therefrom.” Strong’s Expanded Concordance adds to this definition: an indecent thing or figuratively the idea of disgrace or blemish. According to Strong’s Concordance this word is used in a various ways in the Tanakh (Old Testament) with reference to shameful sexual exposure or nudity as in the case of unlawful cohabitation (Lev 18:6), or the shame resulting from Israel’s spiritual adultery (Lam 1:8); or any “indecent thing” that represents defilement or uncleanness resulting from the misuse of the physical body (e.g. uncleanness [due to not burying human excrement] in the military camp, or violation of any laws of sexual abstinence, or being in a state of impurity from sexual cohabitation or nocturnal emissions). With regard to Deuteronomy 24:1 Strong’s comments, “ervah appears to bear this emphasis on any violation of the laws of purity—if a groom is dissatisfied with his bride ‘because he hath found some uncleanness in her,’ he may divorce her. Obviously this evidence is not of previous cohabitation, since such a sin merits death (Deut 22:13ff).”
The exact meaning of ervah is of great controversy between scholars. In his commentary on this passage, Jewish Torah scholar Samson Raphael Hirsch says nothing about the subject, although he goes into great detail about the peripheral issues relating to divorce and remarriage, the legalities concerning the bill of divorcement (Heb. get), etc., but not the cause of the divorce in the first place (i.e. the biblical meaning of unclean thing). Likewise, a cursory search of the Mishna on the subject reveals dozens of pages of minute details regarding divorce and remarriage and various attendant subjects, but I could find no legal definitions regarding the meaning of ervah or had how a marriage could be dissolved because a man found ervah in his wife. The meaning of this word and what were indeed grounds for a man to “put his wife away” was a controversy that raged in the first century between the two main Pharisee camps as well (i.e. the Schools of Hillel and Shammai). Even Yeshua weighed in on this controversial subject in Matthew 5:31–32 siding with the more conservative school of Shammai. The meaning of his exact words have fueled theological debates among Christian scholars to this day with regard to what constitutes legal grounds for divorce among believers.
In the simple or literal (Heb. pashat) meaning of this text ervah may or may not be specifically referring to the loss of the bride’s virginity prior to consummation of her marriage with her new husband, since Deuteronomy 24:1 neither specifically states, nor implies that this is the first marriage for both of them. This is underscored by the Torah’s use of the Hebrew word ishah (wife or woman) in verse one as opposed to either the words bethulah or almah both of which lexically have stronger references to a virgin, youthful bride or young maiden as opposed to the more generic term ishah. Therefore, based on the generic meaning of the word ervah (as discussed above) there could be broader meanings as to why the husband was compelled to “put his wife away” (e.g. as for adultery). If this is the case, do we find any example of this elsewhere in Scripture which could give us additional insight into the Hebraic understanding into the meaning of ervah?
The answer is yes. Jumping from a discussion the pashat (i.e. literal) meaning of this Torah passage up to its meaning at the drash (i.e. allegorical) level let us see what YHVH did with regard to the house of Israel because of her spiritual adultery. YHVH divorced her (Isa 50:1) because of her unfaithfulness (Jer 3:8) and rejected her (Hos 1:9; 2:2).
Thus saith YHVH, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away. (Isa 50:1)
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. (Jer 3:8)
Then said [Elohim], Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your [Elohim]. (Hos 1:9)
Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts. (Hos 2:2)
At this point it is important to note that the prophets use the Hebrew word ervah in relation to the whoredoms of Israel as she left YHVH, her spiritual husband, and pursued her foreign lovers. In Hosea 2:9 the word naked is the word ervah and in verse ten Hosea relates this nakedness on the part of his wife, Gomer, to the lewdness of adultery. The prophet Ezekiel in describing the two harlot sisters, Aholah and Aholibah (i.e. Samaria or the house of Israel and Jerusalem or the house of Judah) relates their nakedness (ervah) to their whoredoms (Ezek 23:10, 8, 29). Again Ezekiel relates ervah to Israel’s sin of breaking wedlock with YHVH and the lewd behavior she exhibited in pursuing her foreign lovers (Ezek 16:38).
Yet in her pursuit of her spiritual lovers she was not satisfied, but longed for YHVH her former (spiritual) husband (Hos 2:7–8). This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. This is beginning to happen now as Christians are beginning to leave the harlot church system and are starting to return to the pro-Torah Hebrew roots of the Christian faith. Malachi prophesied this would happen in the last several verses of the Old Testament when he talked about YHVH’s people remembering the Torah they had forgotten. They will turn their hearts back to the fathers of their faith just before the great and terrible day of YHVH’s judgment on this earth at Yeshua’s second coming (Mal 4:1–6).
Even though YHVH’s adulterous wife has gotten tired of your lovers and wants to return to him, because YHVH had already divorced her due to her violation of her marital or covenantal agreement (Heb. ketubah), which she made with him at Mount Sinai when she said, “I do” to him three times (Exod 19:8; 24:3, 7), he could not remarry her without violating his own Torah-law (Deut 24:4), since she had become another man’s wife. Yet YHVH’s intentions were clear: he would remarry her (Hos 2:16–20; Isa 62:3–5; Jer 31:31–34).
And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. (Hos 2:7–8)
And it shall be at that day, saith YHVH, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name. And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know YHVH. (Hos 2:16–20)
Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of YHVH, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy Elohim. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for YHVH delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy Elohim rejoice over thee. (Isa 62:3–5)
Behold, the days come, saith YHVH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith YHVH: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith YHVH, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their Elohim, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know YHVH: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith YHVH: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:31–34)
But how could YHVH remarry Israel since (a) she was worthy of death for her adultery under Torah-law and (b) he could not remarry his divorced and remarried wife?
The Deeper Meaning of the Gospel from a Hebraic Perspective
Enter the legal mind of the Apostle Paul to resolve the difficulty. Romans 7:1–6 is a discussion of this very issue. If a woman’s husband dies she is free to remarry. She is no longer legally bound to her husband since the Torah-laws pertaining to marriage have no jurisdiction over a dead person.
1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know law,) how that the Torah-law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?
2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the Torah-law of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that Torah-law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the [or, that] law by the body of Messiah; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto Elohim.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the [or, that] law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
6 But now we are delivered from the [or, that] Torah-law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Some Christian biblical expositors claim this passage teaches that New Covenant believers through Yeshua are now dead to the Torah-law of Moses meaning that one is now only obligated to keep the moral aspect of the law (no idolatry, no murder, no adultery, etc.), but that one is freed from the more ritualistic, ceremonial, and lifestyle aspects of the Torah (Sabbath, biblical holidays, kosher laws, etc.) except tithing, curiously so (sarcastically speaking).
But is Paul teaching the abrogation of the Torah-law in this portion of his letter to the Roman believers? No he is not. Those who teach that Paul here is liberating believers from Torah-obedience are overlooking a major detail in the Greek grammar of Romans 7:1–6. In every place where the phrase “the law” occurs in these six verses (where the definite article the is found in the Greek) the word the (Gr. tou/tou)can act as a weak demonstrative pronoun (i.e. that). The context must determine whether the definite article is to be translated into English as the or that (Basics of Biblical Greek, by William Mounce, p. 85). Additionally, both Thayer and Zodhiates note the same grammatical nuance about the Greek definite article in their lexicons. In Romans 7:1–6, for example, the definite article the (Gr. tou/tou) when attached to the Greek word nomos (law) can be translated as this or that. How do we know this? In context of this passage, Paul is referring to a specific law contained in the Torah, and not to all 613 laws of the Torah. This we know, since Paul uses the phrase “the [or this or that] law of her husband [see the kjv, nkjv, nas, NIV, RSV, HRV, J. P. Green, Mounce Bible translations]” in verse two, which is referring to a specific Torah-law that pertains to marriage and not to all the Torah laws in general.
Interestingly, the same Greek definite article (the; tou/tou), which can also be a demonstrative pronoun (this or that) is also connected to the noun law (Gr. nomos) in verses 2, 5 and 6 along with verse 3 (as already noted above).
Based on this and the translators’ use of the demonstrative pronoun that in verse three (as opposed to the definite article the), the internal evidence of this passage would point to the phrase that law being preferred over the phrase the law, since the reference is being made to a specific law in the Torah (i.e. the law of her husband, verse 2) and not to all 613 laws of the Torah. This being the case, to which specific law out of the 613 found in the Torah would Paul be referring? In verse two we read, “… if the husband dies she is loosed from [this/that] law of her husband.” In general the law found in the Ten Commandments states that if a woman has sex with another man beside her husband (and she is not legally divorced) she is an adulteress (Exod 20:14). But a sub-law of this general marriage law is found in Deuteronomy 24:4. Here the Torah also forbids a woman from remarrying her first husband who had divorced her due to her adulterous relationship with and subsequent marriage to another man.
But how could she remarry her first husband (if her second husband was still alive) without violating the Torah-law prohibiting this? Impossible in the natural, but with YHVH all things are possible. What if her first husband were to die in her place (and pay the legal death penalty under the Torah for her adultery) and then resurrect as a new or different man? Is this possible? Evidently, Paul thought so, for in Romans 10 he expresses his heart’s desire for the salvation of Israel and states that this occurs through one’s calling upon the name of Messiah Yeshua who did just that: he died on the cross and paid the sin penalty and resurrected as a new man. The preaching of this message, which Paul calls the gospel or good news, is the message of YHVH-Yeshua remarrying his divorced bride, for in verses 14-15 Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7, which in its greater context (Isa 52:2–62:12) is talking about the (final) redemption (a rabbinical concept involving the return and restoration of the exiled house of Israel and the establishment of the Messianic Age [a.k.a. Millennium]) of Israel back to YHVH (i.e. the pre-incarnate Yeshua [Acts 7:38 and 1 Cor 10:4]) through the death, burial and resurrection of Messiah Yeshua (see Isa 53).
Additionally, the gospel teaches us that when a sinner (who is like the adulterous woman) accepts Yeshua as their Savior, they must be baptized for the remission of sins and then receive the Holy Spirit. Water baptism is a ritual that symbolizes one’s spiritual identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua and pictures being born again spiritually and becoming a new creation or person (Rom 6:3–6; John 3:3, 5; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20). At the same time, when one comes to Yeshua, they become part of the nation of redeemed Israel (Eph 2:11–19). Therefore, Yeshua, the new resurrected God-Man will be marrying a new spiritually redeemed, born again Israelite bride. So both the man (Yeshau) and his adulterous wife (you and me) are new individuals spiritually when we remarry at Yeshua’s second coming.
What’s more, at his second coming, Yeshua will destroy the “man” with whom his wife (Israel) had the adulterous relationship; that is, Babylon the Great along with all of its false religious systems which have come to us down through the ages. Satan, the head of this evil counterfeit system, will be cast into the bottomless pit.
As we can see, the righteous requirements of the Torah will be fulfilled. Yeshua will be able to legally remarry his Israelite wife, and the death penalty for adultery will have been paid for both the adulterous woman and the man with whom she had the relationship.
Messiah Yeshua is presently betrothed to his bride (the spiritual body Torah-keeping saints (see Rev 12:17; 14:12; 19:7–9) whom he has redeemed and sanctified by his blood from her state of spiritual harlotry. This bride awaits his return from his Father’s house where he will claim her as his own and take her as his full-fledged wife. She awaits the wedding feast that will last for 1000 years. This is the true good news (gospel) of the kingdom of Elohim!
The deeper message of the gospel that many have missed, yet in no way contradicts the standard gospel message that has been taught in the church world for nearly 2000 years, involves the divorce of YHVH from his first wife Israel and the remarriage of himself to his first wife. This is a message of redemption, reconciliation and love which involves YHVH bringing his people out of spiritual adultery, slavery and captivity where they had been dispersed and downtrodden. This love story is the theme of the book of Hosea and is embodied in YHVH’s seven biblical holidays. They are the whole plan of salvation or redemption for Israel.